The US Justice Department said Wednesday it has decided not to bring charges in the videotaped police killing last year of Alton Sterling, a black man whose fatal shooting in Baton Rouge, Louisiana fuelled nationwide protests.
The decision marked the first time that incoming Attorney General Jeff Sessions declined to prosecute officers in such a high-profile case -- and was immediately slammed by rights groups as sending a signal of impunity.
The Justice Department said it found "insufficient evidence to support federal criminal charges against Baton Rouge Police Department (BRPD) Officers Blane Salamoni and Howie Lake, II."
The 37-year-old was one of a string of African Americans whose fatal shooting triggered nationwide protests against police brutality, spearheaded by the "Black Lives Matter" movement.
Civil rights group Color of Change said the decision showed that, as far as President Donald Trump's administration was concerned, "black lives do not matter."
Sterling was shot to death July 5, 2016 in a scuffle with Salamoni and Lake outside a convenience store where he had been selling CDs.
Salamoni, shouting "going for a gun," shot Sterling three times in the chest and then three more times in the back in an encounter that investigators said lasted less than 90 seconds.
The Justice Department said that after the shooting, Lake reached into Sterling's back pocket and pulled out a .38 caliber revolver.
During a 10-month investigation, FBI agents and prosecutors reviewed images of the incident captured by body cameras, cellphones and store surveillance cameras as well as witness accounts and other evidence, the Justice Department said.
"Although the videos show that Sterling's right hand was not in or near his right pocket, Sterling was continuing to move, even after being shot three times and being told again not to move by Officer Lake.
"Meanwhile, the officers were behind Sterling, and Officer Salamoni was lying on the ground, facing Sterling's back.
"Given these circumstances, the evidence cannot establish beyond a reasonable doubt that it did not appear to Officer Salamoni that Sterling was reaching for his pocket. Nor could the Department prove that the officer's conduct was willful," the Justice Department said.